CANTON — Top-ranked Kirtland rolled to its second state football championship in three seasons behind a rushing attack that produced 410 yards in a 44-16 victory over Haviland Wayne Trace in the Division VI title game at Fawcett Stadium Friday afternoon under a flurry of snow flakes. Junior running back Adam Hess scored two touchdowns and added two 2-point conversions as part of his 177-yard performance, while senior Sam Kukura had 196 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries for the Hornets (15-0).
Wayne Trace, ranked No. 10 in the final Associated Press state poll, finishes the season 13-2 after making its first championship game appearance in just its second playoff berth.
Kirtland won the Division V state title two years ago, defeating Coldwater. The Hornets suffered their lone loss in the last three seasons in last season’s Division V title game, 10-9, against Coldwater.
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“All offseason we worked hard lifting and on our conditioning. As a running team we like to wear teams down,” said Hess. “We like to pound it all game. We know that they’ll get stronger and they’ll get weaker as the game wears on, and I think that’s exactly what happened.”
Kirtland’s defense was as dominant as its offense. Wayne Trace had scored 217 points in the postseason, the most of any team in any division, and senior quarterback Colby Speice came into the game with 62 touchdown passes but the Raiders were held to 281 total yards. Speice ended the game 18-of-44 for 262 yards and two touchdowns.
Linebacker Matthew Finkler had 12.5 tackles and two sacks while defensive lineman Canon Schroeder added seven tackles, one sack and 4.5 tackles for loss.
“Rushing the passer has always been my favorite thing to do throughout my four years,” said Schroeder. “I just tried to do what I was taught. I relied on my technique and leverage against these guys. Speice is a great player and No. 21 (Korbin Showalter) on the outside has great speed. Speice has a great arm and is very shifty.”
The game was tied 8-8 before Kirtland scored three touchdowns and 22 points in the final 7:43 of the first half to blow open the game. Hess scored on runs of 5 and 9 yards to give Kirtland the lead for good. His second touchdown capped a seven-play, 92-yard drive that included the Hornets escaping a third-and-13 situation from its own 5-yard line.
Quarterback Sam Skiljan completed a 14-yard pass to Finkler to get Kirtland out of the hole.
Hess had 161 yards in the first half on 16 carries, while Kukura had 115 yards on 10 carries in the opening two quarters. Both had runs of 68 yards; Kukura’s went for the final touchdown of the first half spurt.
Hess’ 30-yard run set up quarterback Sam Skiljan’s 1-yard out on a sneak with 2:54 left in the first quarter to put Kirtland on the board first. An offside penalty against Wayne Trace on the extra point gave Kirtland coach Tiger Laverde a change of heart and he chose to go for the two-point conversion.
Wayne Trace tied the score on a 41-yard pass from Speice to Jake Arend followed by a 2-point conversion pass from Speice to Jared Sherry with 11:08 left in the second quarter.
“It was physical. That’s a very tough team,” said Wayne Trace coach Bill Speller. “When these guys were freshmen I told them that they were going to be the first team to take a Wayne Trace team to the state tournament, and they did it. Sure we’d like to have that gold trophy but that’s not the main goal. We’re going to hold our heads up proud and we got a nice spot in our brand new trophy case for this one.”